Visitor turns crime-fighter in Iceland (GeoFic Challenge fm TM INDIA)
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Lionel set his glass of Viking beer on the seatback tray, pulled the letter from his jacket pocket and read it yet again:
My Dear Mister Hansen,
When you did not appear at our meeting this past Thursday, I became concerned and directed my staff to inquire as to your welfare. While I was relieved to learn that all was well with you, I was distressed to hear that, before we could conclude our own business so long in the making, you had left the country on behalf of your firm. It also disturbed me to find that the trip had been scheduled some days prior, yet you had not mentioned it in any of your communications to us. This speaks to a degree of disingenuousness on your part I would not have expected, given our long relationship. Perhaps you were merely preoccupied with your preparations, but even a small lack of candor such as this can damage one's reputation and, as I'm sure you'd agree, a solid reputation is a priceless commodity in today's business climate; certainly, I have my own to protect.
While your Miss Ames valiantly upheld the firm's information release policies, one of my staff was finally able to cajole your basic itinerary from her, allowing me to prepare this short letter and have it waiting for you. I trust you found Rome and London profitable for your firm, and I'm certain you will enjoy your short stay in Reykjavik; if you have time, you simply must take a Blue Lagoon massage.
Our own matter having become quite urgent, I've taken the liberty of arranging for Mr. Vincent Rotella and his associates to meet you upon your return to New York to discuss our pending business arrangement. It will be their pleasure to escort you home, so that you might profitably use the time for discussion. Trusting this matter can be speedily concluded, I remain,
Very truly yours,
A courier from a local service had approached him at the Iceland Express Check-In at London Gatwick Airport. Armed with a photo of Lionel and strict instructions to deliver the letter into his hands without fail, the young man had been scouring Zones D and E since 6:00am. Lionel had been reaching for his boarding pass for Flight 502 to Reykjavik when the courier had walked up to him, matched his face to the photo, and then delivered the letter.
A shudder of apprehension ran through him as he considered the letter. Salvatore Macaroni had carefully crafted his message both as to form and overall effect. Anyone chancing upon the letter would simply see a businessman trying to close a deal into which significant time and effort had been invested, a small chiding for a missed meeting, a friendly suggestion on how to spend a bit of free time, and the generous offer of a ride home from the airport. To Lionel, though, a thinly-veiled menace fairly leapt from the page; indeed, thanks to the courier, it started with the page itself.
Macaroni was the manager and part-owner of a small, but popular, casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the moment, he held an IOU from Lionel's last trip to the casino. It was for twenty thousand dollars, and payment was way past due. Known as "Smooth Sal"--Sal never dirtied his hands with the collection part of the IOUs; that's what Vinnie and the boys were for--he would have been angered at the no-show, and that anger would have jumped right to fury, when he found out about the business trip. The letter, delivered to him in London, was his way of saying, "You're making me look bad, you can't hide and, when you come back - we'll be waiting."
Staring out the starboard-side window, he watched the North Sea fill that triangular gap in the Scottish coast having Fraserburgh, Inverness and Wick as its points. According to the pilot, he also had a chance to see the Faroe Islands just on the horizon later in the flight. Lionel liked to fly and normally enjoyed watching land and sea scroll beneath the aircraft, but the letter had ruined it for him. Lionel's company, Fiber Optic Applications and Manufacturing, was working hard to grow its presence in the European market, particularly in the former East Bloc. Consequently, Lionel, a senior member of the Sales Division, spent a fair amount of time flying between New York and the various countries of Europe. The meetings in Italy and England had resulted in two new clients and quite a few leads. He was making the short stopover in Iceland to address some concerns expressed by a new client in Keflavik. The initial details seemed to describe a potential problem outside Lionel's area of expertise, but the decision had been made to reroute him, as he was already "in the neighborhood". With a small sigh, and a steadily growing feeling of apprehension, he turned to his notes for the upcoming meeting.
Lionel had taken a taxi from the airport to his hotel, the Hotel Björk, checked in and dropped off his bags, then taken another cab to his meeting just south of the harbor. It had gone fairly well, with Lionel answering the questions he could, and taking notes about matters he felt unable to fully address, so that he could pass them along back in New York. They finished up just after four o'clock and, as the weather was agreeably sunny and it was only a bit more than a mile back to his hotel on Brautarholt, he decided to walk back along one of the city's best known shopping streets: Laugarvegur.
Walking east along the south side of the street, Lionel spent a few minutes admiring the offerings in the window of goldsmith Gudbrandur Josef Jezorski, then resumed his walk to the hotel. He was just approaching a tree-shaded area when the door of another shop just past the trees flew open. A youngish-looking man wearing a backpack and carrying a hatchet ran out and turned left; right behind him was a woman, pointing at the fleeing man and shouting. Lionel didn't understand Icelandic, but it seemed clear that the shop had just been robbed.
Stepping directly into the man's path, he launched himself at the jeans-clad pair of running legs. The thief reacted almost immediately, swerving to his left and raising the hatchet, in order to bring it down on Lionel's unprotected head. Both men mis-timed their efforts, though. The man's right knee caught the side of Lionel's head, snapping it to the left. Fortunately for Lionel, the impact threw off his attacker's aim. Consequently, the hatchet twisted in the man's hand and, as he fell, only the flat of the blade hit the right side of Lionel's head.
The dual strikes severely dazed Lionel, almost to the point of unconsciousness. When he was again able to take note of his surroundings, he found that a crowd of passersby had subdued the now disarmed young man, the sound of sirens filled the street, and the woman who had run out of the store was holding a cool, damp cloth to his head. An older gentleman stood beside her and looked down at Lionel. He bent down and handed what appeared to the still fuzzy-headed Lionel to be a small booklet; upon closer inspection, he saw that it was his passport.
"Please accept my apologies for removing your passport from your jacket, Mr. Hansen. When we asked you if you were all right and you didn't respond, we took the liberty of checking for some form of identification. We wish to thank you very much for stopping the thief from getting away," he said, his voice full of gratitude, "but I fear you have paid a very high price. Your head now has a nasty gash and a very serious looking bruise just beginning to swell. I am going to insist that the hospital keep you for at least two days; our insurance will cover your bill, as you clearly acted to protect the shop's assets. I am quite certain that the insurance company will pay you the standing recovery fee of 10,000 Euros!"
Lionel's head started to swim and, this time, it wasn't from the pain. "Ten thousand Euros," he exclaimed, "that's over thirteen thousand dollars!"
"Nearer fourteen at today's rate," the older man confirmed, "and little enough, considering that fellow had taken various stones valued at more than two hundred thousand Euros."
While they had been chatting, two police cars and an ambulance had arrived. The paramedics had the gurney ready to load their patient and transport him to the hospital for x-rays, stitches, and excellent medical care. The police had loaded their prisoner into one of the cars for transport to the station and processing. He would eventually get a quick look, an aspirin, and not much sympathy from the police surgeon.
As the gurney was being secured in the back of the ambulance, one of the officers came over and said something.
"Sorry," Lionel replied, "I don't speak your language."
"Oh, you're American!" the officer said, switching over to English. Lionel nodded, knowing his New York accent could never be mistaken for British. "Well, we will give your Embassy complete details on the situation. Were you staying long in Reykjavik, sir?"
"I'm at the Hotel Björk, but I'm supposed to fly out at 5:00pm tomorrow," answered Lionel.
"We'll pass that information to your Embassy, as well. They'll take care of the flight details and arrange to collect your belongings. One of our detectives will meet with you at Landspítali Háskólasjúkrahús, the National University Hospital, to take your statement. Would that be all right?"
"That's fine, officer, and thank you."
As the ambulance moved off and Lionel had nothing to do but lay on the gurney, the pain of his injuries came back with a vengeance. On the whole, though, it was a lot less pain than he would have received at the hands of Vinnie and his friends, he was sure. Between the reward and the bonuses he'd receive for the two sales, though, he would now be able to clear his debt with Sal, once he got home. He thought about how Sal would react, when Vinnie told him Lionel hadn't been on the plane, and his level of worry increased. He hoped Sal would send the same 'charmer' back to the office to pump Vicky Ames for information, or that the incident would be picked up by some news service like the AP or Reuters. Sal fancied himself a well-informed man and usually had one of his televisions tuned to CNN.
Then a thought struck him. Sal liked to send letters, so why couldn't he? Why not a picture postcard from the hospital? Yes, that was a great idea! As much as his throbbing head would allow, he began composing his message: "Dear Sal. A funny thing happened on my way to the hotel..."
Written for the Geographical Fiction Contest sponsored by"Team India"